Thursday, May 14, 2015

Turning to Him

Turning to Him hangs above the fireplace.
This is the story of a simple guild challenge quilt that became so much more. It hangs over our fireplace, and I (Teri) enjoy looking at it daily, but it is something greater than just the design and the colors, a testing of new skills and old. In fact, for several years, I was sure I could never produce another piece that I thought could "measure up," and a bit of a creative dry spell began. Happily, I've overcome that! This quilt now inspires my creativity.

Challenge fabric, by Robert Kaufman
Several years ago, our local quilt guild was celebrating its 20th anniversary, and for its challenge, we were given a piece of fabric from which to produce a project. I knew of several people who rather disliked the fabric and couldn't imagine making anything of beauty from it. I, however, loved the warm, earthy colors and the ombré effect of the hues. At the time, I was taking an online class to learn how to use my Electric Quilt design program, so it seemed a good time to play with those new skills. Because the fabric had the spirals in its design, I wanted a pattern that reflected that motion. After searching the block library, I found the twisted log cabin block and thought that might work well. I had a great time playing with the designs for the blocks and borders. While paper piecing is not my favorite, these blocks were screaming to be paper pieced for perfect accuracy. The outer border was created using careful measurement and templates. (Proof that we really do use that math we learned in school!)

My favorite part of any quilt process is selecting the colors and fabric for the project. Studying the spirals in the base fabric revealed the four color groups that would move from light to dark, mimicking that ombré look: green, cerulean blue, brown, and gold to red. That last "leg" was my challenge. The first three colors were straightforward, but I had two colors left—a gold and a red. Finding six shades and values for either could be difficult, so I chose to blend those two into one movement, going from cream to gold to red, using a fabric with both gold and red in the middle. The lightest and darkest of that "leg" became the triangles for the outer border. 

Fabric selection: my favorite part!
With my friend Barb, (the same friend who helped me with my grandson's Dr. Suess quilt described in Thing 1 and Thing 2,) I set out for the quilt shops. My stash had provided a few of the fabrics I would need, but we had to visit three shops to complete the job. I can be pretty picky when it comes to color; I had to be sure the greens were the right hues: not too yellow or blue, but just right. In the end, the piles looked like this.

Making this quilt was a joy. I loved seeing the colors come together. Every free moment I had, I found myself in my sewing room, even if it was only to stitch a few seams. I couldn't wait to see this top complete. With each finished section, it did not disappoint; my vision on the computer screen and paper was coming to life in fabric. I was seeing the movement that I had hoped to see, replicating the turning of the spirals in the base fabric. 
Center of quilt, with each block turned a quarter turn.
Lower right hand corner of quilt
When it came time to plan the quilting, my LEAST favorite part of the whole quilt process, I opted to stitch the twisted blocks in the ditch and echo stitch the chevrons in the border. I am not skilled at free motion quilting, but the spirals seemed to need something spiral in their quilting. I decided that the best alternative for the inner border would be to stitch beads in each of the rectangles making up those spirals. And of course, I had to make the colors of the beads and rectangles match. It was surprising to me how calming and enjoyable I found that process to be; it might have actually been the first time that I found hand stitching to be quite comforting! (Odd, as most of my work is now hand work. At that point, however, I far preferred machine work.)
Glass beads hand-stitched in the border fabric, matched to color.
As I stitched, I found myself humming along to the song that seemed to be stuck in my head. (I always have a song running through my brain!) I watched the turning spirals in the fabric surrounded by the turning motion of the twisted log cabins, and the hymn "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" seemed to turn endlessly in my mind. At this time, my oldest son was about to be deployed to Iraq—never an easy thing for a mother. I guess it was gnawing at me a little more than I was acknowledging to myself, for this song just would not let go. The night before he left to go overseas, I was working on the label of the quilt. I realized how anxious I was and knew I could not carry that through the next months of his deployment. I had to trust that my son would be okay. I wrote a poem which I printed on the label for the back of the quilt. The next day when he called me to say he was about to board his plane to head to Iraq, I read the poem to him. He assured me that whatever happened, he would be fine. I found an enormous peace, knowing that God is in control of all things, even if they aren't always easy for us. I am reminded of that truth each time I look at this quilt.  
Quilt label on back

On exhibit in Harrisburg, PA, with my mom
I am happy to say that I entered the quilt in the guild challenge and won first place. It also was accepted at the Mancuso Quilt Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that fall. I must confess, it was fun to see people studying the quilt in the exhibit. It even got my parents to the quilt show! My son returned from his deployment and is now married and has the grandson who enjoys his Thing 1 and Thing 2 quilt. 

I learned a lot about design and construction while making this quilt. But for me, the reminder I receive from the quilt is priceless: I may be able to control the colors and precision of my quilts, but ultimately, I am not in control. For that, I am thankful.

Cornerstone of the quilt

Black and white filter to determine color value
FUN TIP: Did you know that the black and white filter on your phone camera is a useful tool for assessing the values of your fabrics? It makes it clear which colors are your darks, mediums,  and lights. (I was almost afraid to change one of my photos to black and white, but thankfully my eye wasn't too far off the mark.) When choosing fabrics, I now always use this to double check to make sure the values are what I want them to be. I wish I would have known this trick when I was selecting fabrics for this quilt!